Gamling is a popular form of recreational activity that involves wagering on a random event, often in an attempt to win something else of value. Gambling has been a part of human culture for hundreds of years and is still a popular way to spend time today.
There are many types of gambling, such as slots, poker, bingo, and the lottery. Each one is a different game of chance and carries its own risks and rewards. Nevertheless, some forms of gambling have the potential to become a problem, and the terms ‘gambling addiction’ and ‘pathological gambling’ are used to describe this behaviour.
In most cases, problem gamblers are not aware that they have a problem with their gambling habits and do not seek help for them. They may also misrepresent their gambling patterns to others, including friends, family members, and coworkers.
Behaviorally, pathological gamblers are usually very impulsive and may behave in ways that would be considered abnormal in non-problem gambling contexts. These include skipping work, missing appointments, and lying to their spouse or other loved ones about their gambling.
Neurologically, pathological gamblers typically suffer from a reduction in the functional activity of brain regions involved in conflict-monitoring and inhibitory control (Campbell-Meiklejohn et al. 2008).
Cognitively, gamblers often have erroneous beliefs about probability and irrationality. These are referred to as ‘gambling fallacies’ and include misconceptions such as the ‘near-miss effect’, which is when an outcome differs by a small amount from a winning one, or ‘the casino effect’, which is the tendency to perceive patterns in random sequences of events (Gigerenzer 2002).
These cognitive distortions have been linked with damage in the lateral prefrontal cortex (LpFC), a region responsible for conflict monitoring, decision-making, and self-regulation. A number of studies have shown that patients with vmPFC damage, which is the main neurocognitive deficit associated with gambling, are poorer at judging probabilities than healthy subjects, and they tend to prefer risky decks over safe ones over a large number of trials.
The distortions associated with gambling are also thought to be rooted in a lack of mathematical knowledge and confidence in the accuracy of statistical models. However, this interpretation is disputed, as gamblers are sometimes not entirely trustworthy in their application of mathematics to gambling.
In a 2005 German study, problem gamblers who played a card game were found to have low levels of electrical activity in prefrontal brain regions that allow people to assess risks and suppress their impulsive impulses. This is similar to the brain activity of drug addicts.
This has raised questions as to whether cognitive interventions that aim to enhance mathematical literacy can be effective in reducing the distortions associated with gambling. Some therapists believe that by presenting gamblers with ‘bare numbers’, they will be less likely to play their favourite games. These interventions are designed to disabuse gamblers of their irrational beliefs and to discourage them from continuing to gamble.